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Wealthie Eileen Shepard 1915 – 2008


Wealthie Eileen Myers Shepard (originally Myers) died early this morning. It was not unexpected, but traumatic nonetheless. She was the only daughter of Delpha F. Myers (originally Whitman) and Claude B. Myers. She married Donald L. Shepard in 1933, and they had their only child Mary Ann Shepard (then Orwig)(now Labuta) in, I think, 1970 or something like that (that’s what Mom says, anyway). Wealthie lived in McClure Ohio, Allen Park, MI, Leesburg, FL, Toledo, and Bowling Green before coming to the nursing home in Saline.

Wealthie was a wife, a Mom, then became a very successful Grandma. Amy and I have tons of memories of Grandma and Grandpa when we were little. Wealthie just got to experience being a Great Grandma for a short time (“Oh, God,” she would say when we called her that. “It’s awful isn’t it? How did I live so long?”). After a few years as a Great Grandma, the Alzheimer’s shifted everything back a generation for her. I became “Blaine”, and she called Harrison “Scott”. Then she didn’t call us anything at all, just seeing us as some of the generic friends and family who she “ran into” at the nursing home. Great Grandma got to meet Kennedy and Shepard but I don’t think she really understood who they were.

When we got the news this morning, Mom, Amy, and I did the traditional things. We got together and inflicted emotional injury on each other as only family can, made up, fed babies, ate, and made funeral plans. After a while Amy tended to her grief by performing the traditional “make a funeral music playlist on iTunes” activity (Dr. Joe helped with that) and abusing prescription medications. Mom handled the more practical preparations for the funeral. And I consoled Mom as sons have in times of grief for generations: I set up her wireless network.

It looks like the funeral will be in McClure on Monday afternoon.

The year 2008 is lucky it hosted the births of Shepard and Kennedy, because if not for that — so far — it would totally SUCK.

Anyway, below are some pictures of Wealthie Shepard in happier times, along with two videos that include her from Christmas 2000.

Wealthie Shepard

Wealthie Shepard was born, raised, and raised her family in McClure, Ohio, but she is spending the end of her life here with us and with her daughter Mary in Saline. We moved her up here, which was torturous for everyone (Wealthie especially) a few years ago. Since that time she has gone from being occasionally confused about who we are, to being usually confused, to not knowing anyone, to her current state. She was frantic at first about being in assisted living then a nursing home, but after a while she lost track of where she was and almost seemed to enjoy her surroundings. The nursing home in Saline became McClure for her, her room was her home, and everyone there was a friend or relative coming to see her.

It didn’t last, of course, and over the past 8 months, maybe a year, even this faded view of Grandma has disappeared. Now, by all accounts, she is in the last days or even hours of her life. She’s getting services from hospice in a different wing of the same nursing home. It’s a little nicer, but not as nice as her homes throughout the years. People who work at the nursing home keep coming down to see her in her new room. They liked the woman they got to know over the past few years. She was nice, and fun, and caring, but not as much as she had been for the 90-some years before. And sometimes she was content or even happy, but not nearly as much as she had been before her husband Donald “Shep” Shepard died in the late ’90s.

Now she isn’t happy or content or fun or caring or even nice. All those parts have been taken away by what we think is Alzheimer’s disease. All that’s left is a 93 year-old body, and now even that is about to go. We’re all not sure how to feel. The body, with tiny fragments of Wealthie Shepard inside, is clearly uncomfortable and just wants peace. But we’ve been so busy watching the rapid un-development of our Grandma, Great Grandma, or mother that we haven’t really grieved yet. It’s been literally the opposite of watching a baby develop, and similar in that you don’t really recognize the changes in the person until they’re about to leave you.

Wealthie is the last of her generation for us. We lost Grandpa Shepard about 10 years ago. Before that, we lost Mildred Orwig-Wagner, my Dad’s mother — in much the same way as Wealthie — to suspected Alzheimer’s. Dale Orwig died before my generation was even thought of.

So while we’ve all been so focused on the beginning of life in recent years, suddenly I’m studying up on the end of life, trying to make sense of it all.

Grow, Speed Racer!

Lately Harrison and I have been watching old Speed Racer episodes on DVD. It’s been nostalgic for me. I used to watch Speed Racer when I was five years old and living in Pennsylvania. If you are exactly the right age (i.e. my age to about 10 years younger than me) then you probably know that “Speed Racer” started life in Japan as a comic book and anime called “Mach Go Go Go“. The main character of the show (Racer, Speed) wore a helmet with a large “M” on the front. It was dubbed in English, renamed (fortunately), and released in the United States just 5 days before I was born. Despite my early exposure to television I didn’t actually watch Speed Racer as a newborn. That came later, as I watched it on UHF via a rooftop antenna (remember those?).

If you have ever watched the show then I am certain the Speed Racer Theme Song is now playing in your head (listen, it’s there) where it will continue for the next 12 hours or so. If not, please report for indoctrination. Sarah and Grace never watched Speed Racer but I have caught them both singing the theme music since HJ and I started watching the show.

This household interest in Speed Racer was very timely, because it happened about the same time that Sarah, Grandma, and I began to become impatient with Shepard. We realized a few weeks after Shepard was born that his head was not round. We’re still not sure if he came out that way and we just didn’t notice, or if it started to flatten after he was born. We are certain that it wasn’t the fault of improper “positioning” when he slept, as is true for most kids with flat spots. Every time we expressed concern to the pediatrician we got the standard speech about not letting him lay the same way every night. It turns out on kids three and four you begin to recognize when you’re getting a standard speech. Our other three kids’ heads turned out symmetrical – clearly there was something significantly different about Shepard.

We turned and propped and adjusted that kid for months, and although he might have been getting a little rounder (both above and below the neck) it just wasn’t happening fast enough for us. Viewing Shepard from above, it looked as if someone had pushed the whole left side of his head very slightly forward. His left ear and even his left forehead were a little closer to the front than their counterparts on the right. We were concerned he might get stuck that way.

The doctor was about to give us the positioning speech again but we got pushy. We’re Saline parents. We’re entitled. So we got a referal to an “orthotics” specialist to have Shepard fitted for a helmet. The helmet, we learned, is fitted to touch Shepard at the biggest parts of his head. Then, as his head grows, it is shaped as it grows into the round helmet in the same way a watermelon might grow to the shape of a box.

The fitting was extremely cute. Shepard was seated in a little chair with a white cap on his head that had lots of silver dots. He looked like he was playing astronaut. The Orthoticist (I totally just made up that title) then scanned his head. And by “scanned,” I don’t mean like in an MRI. I mean like at a supermarket checkout. She used a handheld scanner that noted the position of the silver dots on the cap and beeped every time it got a new reading. As she worked a crude 3D image of Shepard’s head appeared on the screen of an attached laptop. The whole time Shepard sat facing forward as if waiting for liftoff.

There were lots of choices of helmet color. We chose a nice neutral blue. I’m not sure when we started referring to Shepard as Speed Racer, but unfortunately it was after we chose the helmet. If he had picked up the nickname just a little sooner we would naturally have chosen a white helmet, onto which we could paint a big red “M”.

We’ll have to do that with the next kid (kidding! kidding!).

So Shepard is now known around here as Speed Racer, and Harrison as Rex Racer (or – spoiler alert! – “Racer X”).

Ahhhhhhhhhhh!

So far this has been the scariest Halloween season ever. For the past few days I’ve been just a tiny bit completely obsessed with our financial future — or lack thereof. Up until this week I thought I was obsessed by the presidential election (I’m something of a political junkie, following politics in much the same way normal men follow sports, although I’m less objective and reasonable about it). This week, though, events overtook the election. I’ve never followed the stock market, even when it is significantly high or low. Now I’m checking the Dow and Ford stock constantly. I need an iPhone app that shows me Ford’s cash reserves and sales figures in real time. 

I don’t so much care about the money per se (although a lot of our retirement is in stocks – particularly Ford stock). It’s our family lifestyle that I feel is threatened. Things have been good. We’ve been living comfortably, in a very nice house, and near to much of our extended families. Most importantly, with me away at work only two days a week, we’ve had a family life and been able to enjoy being parents. 
It was nice while it lasted. 
As I have mentioned before, our backup plan (if something catastrophic happened at Ford) was to move away to a region of the country that wasn’t dying on the vine and start over. It would be painful, but possible. As of this week, though, the odds of something catastrophic happening at Ford have increased, and the odds of finding a healthy part of the country (or the world, for that matter) seem quite diminished. In fact, there is a terrible causal relationship between the two problems: Decreasing financial health of other places in the world increases our potential need to find a better place. It isn’t certain doom for Ford, Michigan, or us, but our condition has been downgraded from “serious” to “critical.” 
Sarah and her colleagues are working hard to bring Ford back. If they can pull it off they’re going to have one heck of a story to tell for generations. These are historic times.
In the mean time, wouldn’t you like to buy a nice Ford Flex or F-150? Sarah can get you a deal. And really, isn’t a car a better investment nowadays than stock?

Bloggus interruptus

It’s going to sound like I’m making excuses (because I am) but there are a few reasons I haven’t been able to post very often. One of them is my utter lack of uninterrupted time at the computer. As I type this, Harrison has taken over Sarah’s computer, tossing regular questions my way (“Dad, what does this say?”, “Dad, where do I click now?”, “Dad, can we get this?”, and the always popular “Dad look at this. Dad look at this. Dad look at this.”). In a few minutes Grace will approach wanting to use the computer, and a fight will ensue. Finally Harrison will have stretched his time as long as possible (the last 10 minutes just to annoy Grace as she stands there and whines), and she will sit down. Then she’ll say “Dad, can I play the Strawberry Shortcake game?”, which actually means “Dad, will you stand up and come over here, put the keyboard back where it goes, find the Strawberry Shortcake page, adjust the volume (or I’ll scream!), remind me how to play (or I’ll cry!), and then get up to help me every 90 seconds when I get stuck?”.

I’m about ready to make each kid a computer, put it in their room, and tell them they can do whatever they want for as long as I want as long as they give me a little time to …

WHAT HARRISON??

… He wanted to register for a website. That’s a guaranteed 10-minute pain in the . . . I mean, an opportunity to teach typing, computers, and Internet safety.

In other words, I could post a lot more frequently here (and also respond to emails, program, live a life of my own, etc) if it weren’t for all this PARENTING.

Notice I haven’t mentioned the twins. They’re easy. Despite the hinted opinion of more than one relative that having the twins was a bad thing to do to Harrison and Grace because they sacrifice in a zero-sum parenting game, I don’t think the twins are having a negative impact at all. The babies’ needs are very different, finite, and predictable at this point. And what they give back to the whole family is immeasurable.

Ask me about this again when our driveway is full of cars, or we’re paying college tuition for four.

I had much more to say, but a fight is breaking out over exactly how the desk chair should be positioned.

Only 37 days, 38 nights left to go

It’s been raining. A lot.

My most regular activity for the past few days has been draining water off the pool. Just a few inches of continuous rain is enough to raise the water level above the top of the skimmer, and as water pours out of the back of the skimmer there’s a danger it will erode the delicate sand under the pool as the water runs to low ground. So I turn on the pool pump from inside, grab an umbrella, and splash through the puddles to switch the pump to “waste,” which pumps my carefully balanced crystal-clear pool water into the lawn. After my last effort I was so badly soaked from the driving rain that had blown under my umbrella, I considered just jumping in the pool. I was already wet. Why not enjoy it?

I pump the water to the lawn, but it still doesn’t have anywhere to go. The ground had been bone dry until recently, but by sometime yesterday it became completely saturated. So the still-brown grass (which didn’t even get a chance to use the water) is completely submerged in places. Fortunately we’re on pretty high ground here. The next-door neighbors – well, I hope they’ve got a good sump pump.

To add to the adventure, the sump pumps were out for a while today, too. In the shower I noticed the pressure start to drop and then the water just stopped coming. The power had gone out, and once the water was gone from the pressure tank, there wasn’t any pump to bring more water from the well. So as it turned out our shower was one of the few places today I couldn’t get wet. I’m still kinda soapy.

The power was out for hours. Sarah took the senior children out shopping, which left me with quality time to spend with the twins for a few hours. After some time of cooing and smiling at each other, the quality time began to become noticeably lower in quality. The twins aren’t very good conversationalists. Soon we were all bored. They fell asleep, and I was left to confront a lonely life without electricity. I couldn’t program and I couldn’t watch anything. All my reading nowadays is on a screen. I had let the battery on my iPhone get low, so I couldn’t listen to or watch anything on there. Heck, and can’t even sleep without electricity anymore. All this quiet time to myself and I couldn’t use it at all. It reminded me of that show with Burgess Meredith where he loves to watch TV but the power goes out. Or was it that Batman broke his monocle so all he could do was train Rocky to fight? Something like that.

Anyway, it made for a long day. Fortunately the lights came on before it got so dark that I couldn’t read old-fashioned paper.

Tomorrow it’s supposed to be partly sunny. Which is good, because I’ve got a lot of mowing to do. Anyone know if they make pontoons for lawn tractors?

Second Grade and Poop Corner


Over the past week both Harrison and Grace started school. For Harrison, it was the beginning of 2nd Grade. It was both less exciting and less anxiety-provoking than the past two years of seeing him off on his first bus trip. Two years ago was his first bus ride as he headed off to kindergarten. Last year he was headed off to a new school and his first full day. This year that had all been done. Same bus, same bus driver, and same school. He got ready and headed out just like any day last year. The only differences, of course, were a new class of kids, a new teacher, and the absence of Luke.

I was strangely comforted when I learned this week that Luke wasn’t going to be in Harrison’s class. I guess that meant that Harrison’s life won’t be dramatically altered in a practical way on a day-to-day basis. Those who meet Harrison in his shy turtle mode would be surprised to hear that he was quite the chatterbox in school last year, and Luke was his most common accomplice. Knowing that losing Luke won’t have a major impact on this classroom time is some consolation.

Still, Luke’s absence hung over that first morning like a cloud.

I was determined to walk HJ out to the bus on his first day of 2nd grade, but as with anything around here there were logistical problems (by the name of Shepard and Kennedy). If I put them in the stroller and took them down the driveway they would probably be quiet and watch the scenery, but then it would all be about them rather than HJ. Also I didn’t think I could deploy the NASA-designed folding twins stroller without Sarah’s help (finding it is no problem, however — it is always In The Way). If I stopped to feed them I wouldn’t make it to the driveway until after the bus was long gone. But if I left them unfed I expected I would return to the house to hear them shrieking from abandonment, perhaps already having learned to dial the phone to report me to protective services and Oprah (Irresponsible Parents Who Leave Their Twins Home Alone). Maybe I would even be able to hear the shrieking from the road, the Telltale Twins announcing my irresponsible choices to the neighbors.

So I strapped them into their vibrachairs and held bottles for each of them while Harrison got ready. They only got a few ounces before I took the bottles away and left with Harrison, but it was enough. They only looked mildly (and quietly) impatient when Grace and I returned to the house.

In keeping with the family tradition started by my Mom, I got a “first day of school” picture of Harrison before he got on the bus. I did break with tradition somewhat in not requiring him to stare into the sun while I took the picture. First-day-of-school pictures of Amy and I show the strange combination of excitement, pride in our new metal lunchboxes, and retinal burning.

The bus arrived, Harrison hopped in, and found a seat. In a few moments our new second grader was out of sight. I had the typical, can’t-win parent attitude: Relief that I was down to three kids to care for quickly changed to sadness that I only had three kids to care for. Is it just me, or do all parents manage to find sadness in every happy milestone?

That Friday Grace got to visit Pooh Corner, the preschool run by Saline Area Schools. This was the same program Harrison attended when he was four, so it felt to me like Grace was a little too young. When we got there, though, there were lots of kids her age. I think she’ll do well.

There were two major requirements for Grace to attend Pooh Corner:

  1. She had to be completely potty trained. They don’t do toileting at Pooh Corner.
  2. She had to stop calling it “Poop Corner.” It was an understandable mistake considering how much we kept telling her about item #1, but I can’t imaging what kind of a place she thought we were sending her. A place called Poop Corner where you have to go potty on the potty?